Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parental Divorce and Offspring Depressive Symptoms: Dutch Developmental Trends during Early Adolescence

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parental Divorce and Offspring Depressive Symptoms: Dutch Developmental Trends during Early Adolescence

Article excerpt

In this study, we investigated if the association between parental divorce and depressive symptoms changes during early adolescence and if developmental patterns are similar for boys and girls. Data were collected in a prospective population cohort of Dutch adolescents (N = 2,149), aged 10 - 15 years. Outcome variables were self-reported and parent-reported depressive symptoms. The effects of divorce were adjusted for parental depression. In both self-reported and parent-reported data, we found a three-way interaction of gender, age, and parental divorce, indicating that with increasing age, parental divorce became more strongly associated with depressive symptoms among girls, but not boys. These results suggest that girls with divorced parents are at particularly high risk to develop depressive symptoms during adolescence.

Key Words: adolescence, depression, divorce, gender, longitudinal.

During the past four decades, parental divorce has become an increasingly common experience for children and adolescents in Western societies (Latten, 2004). Divorce is a multifaceted process. It implies the falling apart of the family, which is often a painful experience with possibly longlasting consequences such as loss of income and diminished parenting (Cherlin, Chase-Lansdale, & McRae, 1998). In addition, children whose parents divorce are generally exposed to more conflict and bitterness than children who grow up in stable marriages. The association between marital discord and divorce is far from straightforward, and the two have been found to interact to influence children's well-being (e.g., Hanson, 1999; Morrison & Coiro, 1999). In the present study, the aim was not to disentangle the effects of divorce and discord. Rather, we used parental divorce as a marker (with considerable intracategory variance) of family-related stressors and losses.

Evidence has mounted that parental divorce increases the probability of offspring depressive symptoms (e.g., Kelly, 2000; Strohschein, 2005). Girls and boys are equally likely to be confronted with parental divorce, but the depressogenic effect of this experience may be different for both genders. There is little evidence for such gender differences in childhood (Amato, 2001), but in adolescence, girls have been proposed to be more sensitive to parental discord than boys (Crawford, Cohen, Midlarsky, & Brook, 2001). Cyranowski, Frank, Young, and Shear (2000) developed a model explaining why interpersonal adversity may affect girls more than boys and why this gender difference may emerge only in adolescence. Briefly, the model postulates mat, because of socioculturel and hormonal changes, girls' affiliative need (i.e., preference for close emotional relationships) intensifies during adolescence. In other words, compared to boys, girls become increasingly sensitive to interpersonal matters in this phase of life. This increase in affiliative need coincides with the adolescent shift from parental to peer/romantic attachments (Nelson, Leibenluft, McClure, & Pine, 2005). Peers and peer interactions become more important, and the amount of interpersonal Stressors increases (Rudolph & Hammen, 1999), which may trigger latent vulnerabilities in the interpersonal domain. The combination of increased affiliative need with the adolescent transition from parents to peers is assumed to set the stage for the development of depressive symptoms in vulnerable girls (Hankin & Abramson, 2001). Parental divorce and related discord may impinge on abilities to engage in relationships in a confident and effective way (Cummings & Davies, 1994) and hence be a source of interpersonal vulnerability. In fact, Wallerstein and Corbin (1989) showed that girls from divorced parents were more likely to encounter relationship problems in adolescence and young adulthood than girls from intact families. Because of the combination of high exposure and high sensitivity to interpersonal Stressors, we hypothesized that daughters of divorced parents would have rising levels of depressive symptoms during early adolescence. …

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